BATMAN BEGINS’ CHRISTIAN BALE
Below is a transcript of the Q&A session of Christian Bale at the WonderCon in San Francisco on February 19, 2005.
San Francisco – Before addressing thousands of fans at WonderCon on Saturday, Batman Begins star Christian Bale held court with a handful of reporters for a roundtable interview, in which he discussed how Batman Begins is different than previous Batfilms, his approach to the character just how cool it was to drive the Batmobile.
How did Christopher Nolan help to shepherd you through this role and, based on your mutual conception of Batman, can you give me your reading list of essentials?
I mean, Chris was really the reason I wanted to do it. I had first read a graphic novel … I’m not a comic-book fan. I never have been. But – I kind of forget how I ended up getting it – but somehow I got Arkham Asylum, read it and was really intrigued by it because there was nothing I had scene in the Batman TV series and nothing like I had seen in the Batman movies, either. I thought it was so much more interesting. Then I read Batman: Year One and the Dark Victory stuff. And I thought, “This is good stuff. This is a really great character here. And the way they play it is fantastic. Why hasn’t there been a movie done?”
And I heard that Darren Aronofsky was going to do a version, which fell apart for reasons I’m not sure. But then Chris Nolan coming on board, another really interesting director. Just the fact that they asked him to do meant they didn’t want the same thing that we had seen before, which is what I was interested in, creating something completely new.
And we had the first conversation, and Chris very much wanted to focus on those graphic novels, Batman: Year One, The Longest Halloween, etc. And he seem to just like what I was coming up with.
It was a long shoot, but it was very rare that we kind of stopped and had to really work something out because it was going terribly wrong. He usually kind of enjoyed sitting back and seeing what I was coming up with. Generally, we had communicated enough beforehand that he liked it. He enjoyed throughout. The main thing that he had to guide me on was the physicality because I was coming into the project being extremely scrawny and skinny. He was kind of terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to look believable playing the Dark Knight. But we got that worked out.
Have you seen a rough cut of the film yet?
I’ve been told I would be shot or something if I said that. (laughs) But I expect very good things.
Does it look like what you thought it would like?
I’m not sure how much I should go into. First of all, it’s the genesis, and it’s not referring to any of the other movies. It’s not a prequel, it’s not a sequel, none of that. It just the beginning, and we’re not referring to any of the other movies whatsoever. It’s far more human than any of the others, and we’re taking advantage of using the great story of how he came to be Batman. His early days, and the beginnings of Bruce Wayne. A very large part of the movie is taken up with that before you see any ears at all.
But then, also, I think that one very big difference in my eyes is the way we chose to portray the Batman himself. Just because I realize that to be serious was a spoof on what the original Bob Kane intentions hasd been. I never felt like I had seen it adequately done in any of other movies, either. I really attempted to become a different creature that ceases to be human at that point.
And, frankly, I had to that out of necessity just because I felt like an idiot when I was standing the Batsuit and being the guy. You can’t hang out, you know, in that suit. You have to be in control and you’d have to be focused. I would always remember about the fact that this is somebody who is fanatical. If you think about the obsession that somebody must have to retain the pain and the anger from an incident that happened 20 years previously, and is still at the forefront of his mind, that’s an incredible obsession. That’s an unhealthy obession. And so concentrating on the fact that he’s attempting to take his pain and his guilt and his anger and the rage, and do something good with it, even though his impulses are he does just want to rage and break bones and do damage. So there’s always that conflict.
So, for me, it was very much about remembering that, and I would refer to the different graphic novels. I had them on the set with me all the time, just because I love the imagery so much. And remembering that I never wanted to appear to be Bruce Wayne in a Batsuit when I was playing the Batman. It is an alter ego – completely.
You’ve played several obsessive characters.
I’ve done many other characters that aren’t so obsessive as well. But, I would imagine to everybody here, I would be very surprised if anybody here wouldn’t say that an obsessive character is not illuminating in some way, you know, that they are people that you wouldn’t want to have in your life but you certainly enjoy hearing about them and watching them. Pretty much anybody who you look at throughout history who has achieved great things, they were obsessive about it.
And it also means with characters who are as obsessive as that, you can kind of make up your own rules because they are not playing by society’s rules that we all kind of know and acknowledge each and every day of how to get through life without upsetting everybody around you at any given moment. And you can kind of chuck all of that out the window when you’re playing those kind of characters, so they are enjoyable.
There is a legacy of people who have played Batman. How did you approach playing Batman as opposed to others before?
You have the Tim Burton one, a great stylization. But, to me, whilst I enjoyed those ones, in was most the stylization of the villains than the Batman himself. I didn’t see a whole lot going in Batman. The other ones just weren’t my thing at all.
I just felt I wanted to attempt to base it in reality, starting with realistic point of view of pain and the trauma that a child has been through, and really look at it as that. Instead of, hey, this is an incredibly theatrical character that jumps around in a Batsuit, which, to me, would be kind of stupid if I meant him in the street. I don’t think I would be intimated. I would laugh at him.
You have to get a point where the audience would be drawn in enough to believe that this guy has go through so much pain and anger and then we have a really nice backstory about how he creates Batman. And also there’s a very nice practical back story to every gadget and the Batsuit and everything. Everything is explained in the movie. Nothing was taken for granted at all. There’s no assumptions the audience would just understand it immediately. We wanted to show quite how this would happen and why he would choose everything. And it’s all explained very, very well and in detail.
In making that kind of approach, I think it couldn’t help but appear different. You’ve got a real character. And also, we’re focusing on Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas what I would find in watching the other movies and the TV series and things, I always thought the villains were much more interesting. And that was the main reveleation to me in reading the graphic novels. Batman’s the most interesting of them all. He’s really on the edge.
OK, he’s doing good, but he’s the Dark Knight. A knight is meant to be in shining armor, but he’s the Dark Knight. He could do good things, but, man, he could just as easily flip over and become the ultimate villain. And hopefully we’ve been able to portray that in a more character-based way that’s been showed before.
Other actors who have played Batman have found difficulty in acting in the costume. How was difficult was it for you?
It wasn’t. I think some of them were talking about just the physical stamina that you kind of need for being in that. When you first put it on, you feel like you’re scuba diving for something and it feels kind of claustrophobic. But I just sat with it for a while.
And, like I said, I could not wear that suit without making myself feel like some kind of beast, you know? And, so, I found it just happened organically and I just went with as much aggression and rage as you could, bordering on appearing like a bad guy when he’s got the suit on, that you should be unsure when you’re faced with him. First of all, that I wanted it to be that he was never somebody that kind of stood still, saying, “Hi, I’m Mr. Batman. How are you?” That it should be almost like you’re witnessing a very rare and dangerous creature in the jungle. Like somebody you just glimpsed momentarily.
And, also, I think, they made a lot of advances in the actual makeup of the suit. It was kind of like they cooked it, really. It was like a kitchen where they were boiling up all these different ingredients to try to get just the perfect left of mobility and rigidity in certain areas, etc. So I think, by far, I have had the easiest time of anybody short of probably Adam West, who I think was running around in some kind of cotton get-up or something. They usually came up with some good stuff, and it’s much more mobile than any of the other suits have been.
What do you think shooting in England brought the production?
To be honest, we shot exteriors in Chicago. It wouldn’t have matter where we shot. It really wouldn’t have.
To be blunt, what I think it brought was a lot of tax rebates. I think that was it. That was the main reason. Because obviously, this is not England. It should not be English. This is a very American mythology, although it travels. Everybody around the world knows it, but it’s quintessentially an American mythology.
How heavy was the suit and what was your first reaction when you saw yourself in it?
Actual poundage, I’m not sure on how heavy it really was. My first reaction seeing it, I remember … I tried on one of the old ones for a screen test they wanted to do. But it didn’t fit exactly. The first time I actually put one one that was made for me, it was like I said, it was like looking at a creature. It wasn’t me in there at all. And that’s how I liked it. I didn’t want to have any kind of recognition of myself or Bruce Wayne once he’s inside of it all.
But it’s a kick. It’s a high. You get into that suit and you’re looking at the mirror, seeing it and staring back at yourself.
It’s a long shoot, about seven months, and you can get start to get kind of blase about it. “Well, I’ve got the Batsuit on again.” So that’s why I get the images around me all the time, to remind myself of that initial feeling. Because it was a very strong feeling when I first put that on, of feeling that I was a very dangerous creature to be around.
Batman and Bruce Wayne each have a number of interesting foils. Which character that you played off told you the most about your own character?
I think certainly Michael Cain as Alfred in terms of the past. I think he’s certainly the most informative of the characters. First of all, he plays it brilliantly. He’s so good. He’s funny. But you really get to feel and witness the pain that this guy has been through and the ones who love him have had to sit back and see him go through and be tortured through his teenage years and everything, and not be able to reach out and help him.
Everybody else, kind of is controlled more by Batman. Whereas the Alfred character is the only one who is able to get behind that mask and knows exactly who Bruce is and knows his weak points and that can push any buttons he wants, because he is his surrogate father.
How many of these films have you signed for?
Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Which one of three previous Batmans do you think lended the most amount of credibility to the Batman role?
They all did it in different ways. I think what Adam West did was great. I just didn’t realize it when I was watching it as a kid that it was a spoof. It was a very camp kind of thing, the performance he was doing.
After that, I would say Michael Keaton, because of Tim Burton and the way he approached the movie. However, we didn’t want to do anything like that, either. To me, it wasn’t what I was seeing in the graphic novels at all. And I never really felt the danger with the Batman that I felt should be appropriate.
I was reading a foreword by Frank Miller that I believe is in Batman: Year One about when he first saw Batman and how he says to him, Batman was never funny. And I liked that because that’s what I thought. There can be a lot of comedy through it coming from other people. But the actual Batman himself, I think it had gotten lost in a lot of little one-liners and quips that reduced the edge and the reason he had become this Batman in the first place, which was this incredible rage and anger and guilt he had within him.
So this is a rougher Batman?
Much more, yeah.
Is he mentally ill?
I think probably some psychiatrists would say yeah, for hanging on to that pain intentionally, for keeping hold of it, for letting it rule much of his life. I wouldn’t say he’s schizophrenic or a multiple personality where he’s unable to control it. He can control it, but it’s his intense discipline he’s learned to be able to function in everyday life. In many ways, the Bruce Wayne character, the playboy, the cad, the businessman, he’s actually the mask. He’s the performance.
I would say that nobody would say he’s in a healthy state of mind to be in. But I’m not suggesting he’s got multiple personality disorder or anything like. Although, personally, I think it would be quite an interesting way to take it if you really want to go to extremes with it.
Batman is known for his weapons and things. Is there anyone in this film that was your favorite?
Which one do think? (laughs)
It has to be because they’ve done such a radically different thing with it. And what I love about is that it aesthetically it kicks ass and looks stunning. There are a couple of times driving down the street in Chicago and it was like, “We can load it on the truck or just drive five minutes down there.” And they just drove five minutes down there.
And you see that thing just going down the street and everybody’s stopping looking like, “What the hell is this?”
There was even this guy that crashed into it. This poor, drunken guy who didn’t have a license who said he got so panicked when he saw the car he thought aliens were landing. And he put the pedal to the metal. I wasn’t in it at the time; it was the stunt driver. And he sideswiped it.
So I love this affect it has on people. I just loved how it’s indicative of the way we are making the movie as a whole. It looks nothing like any Batmobile that has come before it, and it completely has pratical applications that are explained. Very smart and makes complete sense. That’s indicative of everything we’ve done with the movie, including the explanation of the suit, the cowl and all the different gadgets he comes up with and where he comes to them.
How did it drive?
Stunning. Fantastic. I wish I had gotten to drive it more. The guy with the coolest job on the set was the stunt driver, you know? It didn’t matter. I got a lot of attention the first few days with the Batsuit on. Everybody was like, “Ooooh.” Then after a while, you get used to me sitting around in the Batsuit.
The stunt driver, every time he came on the set, everyone was in awe. “All right, here comes the man. This is the guy who’s really going to make the movie.”
And it is stunning. The things that they did with it. The actual engineering of it is stunning. I don’t know an awful lot about cars, but its apparently the first car designed without any kind of front axle. It really can do the things you see in the movie. The actual cars could really do it; they built like 12 or 13 of them.
Did you get to keep one?
That was the first question. And they looked at me and said, “Are you kidding?” So, no, I didn’t get to keep one of them.
But it is a fantastic drive. You get in it – and I’ve always been a fan of motor bikes, and not so much cars – you get in that and you can’t help but love cars. Because you see all the inner-workings and you can see the functionality of everything that’s going on. And it screams, you know, when you get it up to a high speed. And it really flies. They couldn’t keep up with it, the camera cars. They were having trouble keeping up with it and were having to ask, “Could you please slow down because we can’t keep up with the thing?” But it screams in your ear and you’ve got the smell and everything inside of it. It’s elating. My heart was pounding every time I stepped out of that thing.
Did you watch the Batman cartoons at all?
I didn’t actually, no.
(At this point, The Continuum hands Bale a flyer from DC Direct’s Batman Begins merchandise)
Question: What do you think of that?
I saw some kind of limited edition thing that DC Comics did for myself and Chris and a few other people. I haven’t seen this one yet.
Do you think it’s a good likeness?
I don’t look it as personally me, but as Batman, yeah. There’s a good likeness. There seems like there’s a little bit more area around the mouth and his eyes seem a little bit bigger. Kids always like that, the sinister eyes, where it’s black all the way around it. They don’t like to see the white.